The narrative that Russia interfered with the U.S. election specifically to help Donald Trump win is picking up steam, but media reports on the subject are ignoring or deliberately omitting one key detail regarding the hack into the Democratic National Committee.
Citing a source literally briefed on a brief, the Washington Post reported Friday the CIA has concluded Russia wanted to help Trump win, prompting renewed debate about the legitimacy of Trump’s win. A subsequent report revealed FBI officials sharply disagree, and believe the hard evidence demonstrates only that Russia wanted to undermine the election generally.
The intelligence agency’s disputing conclusions have led Republicans and Democrats to unite behind calls for a congressional investigation into the matter.
Largely lost from the conversation, however, is that the DNC hack has been traced back to the Spring of 2015, long before anyone was taking the idea of a Trump presidency seriously. Of course the planning for the hack would have begun possibly much earlier, likely before Trump even declared his intention to run for president that June.
“Putin’s own government had been preparing a vast, covert, and unprecedented campaign of political sabotage against the United States and its allies for more than a year,” Thomas Rid wrote in a piece on the ins and outs of the hacking campaign in Esquire. He adds: “The inspiration and template for this new attack was a poisonous cocktail of fact and fabrication … ”
The timeline raises the obvious question: Even if Trump had declared his intention to run before Russia concocted the plan, why would Russia wage an unprecedented campaign in order to help a presidential candidate very few people thought had any shot at winning?
One FBI official told CNN even the Russians — who according to the CIA were working to help Trump win — were as surprised as everyone else when he hit 270 electoral votes.
“At this point, there appears to have been a combination of motivations,” the official said. “They wanted to sow discord and undermine our systems.”
Perhaps the CIA is right in concluding Russia’s motivation went beyond a general desire to undermine the U.S. democratic process toward a particular election result. Maybe Russia did actively want Trump to win at some point in the process. But even then the question remains whether Russia wanted Trump to be president in his own right, or whether Russia just really wanted Clinton to lose.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Clinton have a rocky relationship that goes back years, during both her tenure as a senator and as secretary of state.
As part of a “Russian reset” she headed up as secretary of state, Clinton pursued a friendly working relationship with then-Russian President Dmitri Medvedev. He had set himself up in contrast to Putin (then prime minister) as a relatively liberal friend of the west, and Clinton’s relationship with him allowed the U.S. to improve relations with the country without dealing directly with Putin.
Some in Putin’s circle saw Clinton’s work with Medvedev as part of a strategy to undermine him and his influence in global politics.
Putin also blamed her for encouraging uprisings against Russia in 2003 in Georgia and in 2004 in Ukraine, and was furious when she accused his party of rigging the results of a 2011 election in which they had massive wins.
“Russian voters deserve a full investigation of electoral fraud and manipulation,” she declared that December, adding that the Russians “deserve the right to have their voices heard.”
Putin publicly accused Clinton of instigating protests over the results on the streets of Moscow following the election. She “gave them a signal,” he said. “They heard this signal and started active work.”
Clinton ended her tenure in the aftermath of Obama’s second election, largely under public conjecture that she would gear up to take his seat in 2016.
It’s plausible that Putin’s plan started even then to interfere with the election.
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